Culture is Everything
I have nightmares when I think back to sitting alone, in my living room, and planning to start a new company, GForce.
I was in my 50’s and writing my business plan on a card table – literally. Fast forward five years and I am overjoyed, grateful and humbled that my crazy idea – worked! GForce was recently named by Inc. Magazine as the 8th Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies in America. Of course, I am proud (and relieved) that things worked out as they have, but more importantly, I can’t help asking myself…how? How did this happen?
That is what I want this blog post to try and answer, because it wasn’t just me by a long shot. No it was a combination of many things that I am going to try and briefly explain and I hope will help provide newly minted entrepreneurs a road map to building something special, and long lasting.
It’s Not About the Money
I never started GForce to simply make money. Sure, it’s a wonderful benefit if you survive the startup stage, but after plowing tons of dollars of my own funds into the business and wondering if this was just some crazy fools dream, something else had to provide long lasting motivation. That one thing – having a purpose, a higher calling than just making money. I have always found that providing people good paying employment is an honorable profession. It’s about having an impact on someone’s life, their career, their family, their self-esteem. That is what drives me.
Burn the Boats
There is an old story about a commander of an ancient army that upon reaching the beaches of their planned invasion location, had all the boats carrying his army burned. His message was loud and clear, either we perish here or we win. You must be 110% committed to your new company, keep the naysayers away and believe in yourself. To quote FDR, “The only thing we need to fear is fear itself.” When I started GForce a dear friend of mine said something like, “Well if it doesn’t work out you’ve always got your family’s company to fall back on.” I was furious and I told him to never say anything like that again, I would not let anyone create any self-doubt. My boats were burned and I was going to win or die trying, there was no turning back.
Culture Doesn’t Happen by Accident
Early in my career as a twenty something, my Uncle when addressing a huge audience of a firm he helped build from a four-man firm to a fortune 500 company today said: “Culture is everything.” I literally didn’t understand what he meant until much later in life but once I did, I made it my top priority when opening GForce’s doors. Culture doesn’t happen by accident, it is intentional. Here are some of the key components to building and keeping a strong culture.
Share your vision and ask yourself, is it compelling to your employees and be able to answer the question – why is your vision important?
Employees “feel” better about their jobs when they like the people they work with. Make as many of your proven leaders part of the hiring process. I can’t tell you how many times they have helped me avoid hiring mistakes.
Don’t take yourself too seriously, lighten up, be accessible, and have fun working hard. In the past I used to build the imaginary wall between me and my employees. No wonder they thought I was aloof and they never fully committed. I found that by dropping your defenses, being yourself, being vulnerable (like admitting when you make mistakes) will bind your team together by giving them permission to do the same amongst themselves. I know this is a cliché, but we really do see everyone in the company as part of the GForce family.
Everybody Has Challenges
This gets to the soul of a great culture driven company and seems so simple, but you would be surprised how few leaders practice (it takes effort) truly caring about their employees. Sure we are all here to do our jobs but do you know what challenges your staff face outside the office? Sick spouses, sick kids, family problems, dying parents or siblings, career disappointments or accomplishments, etc. If your team knows that you authentically care – your culture will magically take care of itself. Make everyone feel important, because they are.
Hire Well & Get Out of the Way
I love watching employees grow – it’s one of the most rewarding things in my life. The trick is to hire well, and I have found that personal referrals from your top performers works well. Be specific when asking, saying things like, “Karen, I am always pleased by these qualities (name the top 4 or 5) that you demonstrate all the time, who amongst your circle of friends would you say would have the same kind of traits, and can we bring him/her in for an informal chat?” Not only will your employee be beaming because of the professional compliment, but we have had tremendous success and hired outstanding employees this way.
Next, if you have made a good hire, invest in their training, mentor them continuously and get out of their way, literally. Let them make mistakes, at least you know they’re trying!
This has gotten longer than I wanted, and I have so much more I would like to say but I’ll stop here. At the beginning of this blog I said I was humbled by our success and what I meant was that we would not be where we are today if not for the commitment and dedication of my business partner and the entire team of hardworking, fun loving GForcers I get the privilege of working with every day – thank you all.
Founder & CEO